Colombian Armed Forces Help Former Guerrilla Women Demobilize and Reintegrate

Colombian Armed Forces Help Former Guerrilla Women Demobilize and Reintegrate

By Dialogo
March 04, 2015





Preparing for life after the conflict, the Colombian Armed Forces is working hard so that a growing number of women who once fought for guerrilla groups but have demobilized can reintegrate into society.

Since 2003, more than 25,000 former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have demobilized. The government is engaged in ongoing peace talks with the FARC in Havana. In recent years, the percentage of female guerrillas who demobilized has increased.

For example, in 2006, the percentage of female demobilized guerrillas increased from 13 percent to nearly 26 percent, according to the Group of Humanitarian Attention for the Demobilized (GAHD), which is part of the Ministry of Defense.

In 2014, of the 1,349 demobilizations by former FARC and ELN guerrillas, 23 percent were women.

The increasing number of women in the ranks of the FARC since 2002 is no accident. The terrorist organization has actively recruited women to join its ranks. For instance, in 2008, the FARC secretariat issued a directive to increase the recruitment of women and children to compensate for heavy losses in the battlefield and dwindling enlistments. Currently, about 25 percent of the estimated 8,200 active FARC guerrillas are women, according to a Ministry of Defense estimate.

Women have become an integral part of the FARC and other guerrilla organizations, to the extent that these terrorist groups would face major problems without them, according to Colombia’s Ministry of Defense.

“Women in the guerrillas play important sexual and emotional roles,” said Dalia Andrea Ávila, a retired Army officer who now heads a group of psychologists from the GAHD. “If it weren’t for them, the men wouldn’t be able to stay in the jungles or mountains for as long as they do.”

As a consequence, encouraging demobilizations by female guerrillas weakens the terrorist groups they leave and improves public safety.

Women endure mistreatment by guerrilla groups


Despite the importance of women to the FARC, the ELN, and the AUC, these terrorist groups often mistreat female recruits.

They actually recruit most of the women in their ranks as teenagers. Once the female teenagers have joined a guerrilla organization, they endure physical and psychological mistreatment, according to the GAHD.

Each terrorist group has different rules that impact women in different ways. For example, the FARC and the ELN have different rules regarding pregnancies.

“Whereas in the FARC it is not permitted to have children and abortions are the rule, in the ELN they are given leaves to have their children after they’ve spent two or three years in the group,” said Ávila, a health professional with a master’s degree in clinical psychology who is responsible for evaluating and interviewing the women who flee from both guerrilla groups.

Approximately 74 percent of the women who have demobilized have had at least one abortion, according to the GAHD. The figure is so high because there are typically three men for each woman in each guerrilla group, so sexual partners are constantly rotated.

In the FARC, women who get pregnant typically must get an abortion. In some cases, for example, if their partner is a FARC commander, the women are allowed to give birth, but then must give away their baby to relatives or even strangers, such as farmers.

“Armed groups carry out abortions all the time,” said Nelson Alberto Torres, one of the medical chiefs of the GAHD's Health branch. “Often, they perform what we call artisanal surgeries in which they can remove a woman’s uterus or ovaries.”

In addition to enduring unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, about 13 percent of the women in terrorist groups contract sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, according to the GAHD.

Women demobilize to escape mistreatment


Such mistreatment is a powerful motive for women to demobilize.

Some female guerrillas demobilize to protect their unborn children or to reclaim those they were forced to give away, often even managing to convince their partners to abandon the ranks as well, Ávila said.

When a woman demobilizes from a guerrilla group, the GAHD, the Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR), and several other government agencies help them with social, health, psychological, educational, and financial assistance. These services are part of a comprehensive approach designed to provide demobilized women the tools they need to rejoin civil society.

For example, the GAHD provides newly demobilized women with housing in places known as "peace homes," where they receive food, basic education, psychological support, and attend workshops to prepare them to rejoin civil society.

Women in these homes are asked to fill out a sheet to record their family, work, educational, and community history, in order to help GAHD officials identify their strengths and help them plan their next step when they leave, typically after two months.

The process can be difficult for some demobilized women who are accustomed to the guerrilla lifestyle in which day-to-day survival is their primary concern, according to Ávila. But women can change and adapt.

“The women from the guerrilla groups are independent and strong-willed," Ávila said. "Many times they are much more willing to educate themselves and seek aid than the men are. That is a great advantage."




Preparing for life after the conflict, the Colombian Armed Forces is working hard so that a growing number of women who once fought for guerrilla groups but have demobilized can reintegrate into society.

Since 2003, more than 25,000 former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have demobilized. The government is engaged in ongoing peace talks with the FARC in Havana. In recent years, the percentage of female guerrillas who demobilized has increased.

For example, in 2006, the percentage of female demobilized guerrillas increased from 13 percent to nearly 26 percent, according to the Group of Humanitarian Attention for the Demobilized (GAHD), which is part of the Ministry of Defense.

In 2014, of the 1,349 demobilizations by former FARC and ELN guerrillas, 23 percent were women.

The increasing number of women in the ranks of the FARC since 2002 is no accident. The terrorist organization has actively recruited women to join its ranks. For instance, in 2008, the FARC secretariat issued a directive to increase the recruitment of women and children to compensate for heavy losses in the battlefield and dwindling enlistments. Currently, about 25 percent of the estimated 8,200 active FARC guerrillas are women, according to a Ministry of Defense estimate.

Women have become an integral part of the FARC and other guerrilla organizations, to the extent that these terrorist groups would face major problems without them, according to Colombia’s Ministry of Defense.

“Women in the guerrillas play important sexual and emotional roles,” said Dalia Andrea Ávila, a retired Army officer who now heads a group of psychologists from the GAHD. “If it weren’t for them, the men wouldn’t be able to stay in the jungles or mountains for as long as they do.”

As a consequence, encouraging demobilizations by female guerrillas weakens the terrorist groups they leave and improves public safety.

Women endure mistreatment by guerrilla groups


Despite the importance of women to the FARC, the ELN, and the AUC, these terrorist groups often mistreat female recruits.

They actually recruit most of the women in their ranks as teenagers. Once the female teenagers have joined a guerrilla organization, they endure physical and psychological mistreatment, according to the GAHD.

Each terrorist group has different rules that impact women in different ways. For example, the FARC and the ELN have different rules regarding pregnancies.

“Whereas in the FARC it is not permitted to have children and abortions are the rule, in the ELN they are given leaves to have their children after they’ve spent two or three years in the group,” said Ávila, a health professional with a master’s degree in clinical psychology who is responsible for evaluating and interviewing the women who flee from both guerrilla groups.

Approximately 74 percent of the women who have demobilized have had at least one abortion, according to the GAHD. The figure is so high because there are typically three men for each woman in each guerrilla group, so sexual partners are constantly rotated.

In the FARC, women who get pregnant typically must get an abortion. In some cases, for example, if their partner is a FARC commander, the women are allowed to give birth, but then must give away their baby to relatives or even strangers, such as farmers.

“Armed groups carry out abortions all the time,” said Nelson Alberto Torres, one of the medical chiefs of the GAHD's Health branch. “Often, they perform what we call artisanal surgeries in which they can remove a woman’s uterus or ovaries.”

In addition to enduring unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, about 13 percent of the women in terrorist groups contract sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, according to the GAHD.

Women demobilize to escape mistreatment


Such mistreatment is a powerful motive for women to demobilize.

Some female guerrillas demobilize to protect their unborn children or to reclaim those they were forced to give away, often even managing to convince their partners to abandon the ranks as well, Ávila said.

When a woman demobilizes from a guerrilla group, the GAHD, the Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR), and several other government agencies help them with social, health, psychological, educational, and financial assistance. These services are part of a comprehensive approach designed to provide demobilized women the tools they need to rejoin civil society.

For example, the GAHD provides newly demobilized women with housing in places known as "peace homes," where they receive food, basic education, psychological support, and attend workshops to prepare them to rejoin civil society.

Women in these homes are asked to fill out a sheet to record their family, work, educational, and community history, in order to help GAHD officials identify their strengths and help them plan their next step when they leave, typically after two months.

The process can be difficult for some demobilized women who are accustomed to the guerrilla lifestyle in which day-to-day survival is their primary concern, according to Ávila. But women can change and adapt.

“The women from the guerrilla groups are independent and strong-willed," Ávila said. "Many times they are much more willing to educate themselves and seek aid than the men are. That is a great advantage."
Hmm, I don't know, sometimes I think there's some truth to this, but it would also be good to circulate what is happening in the army with female recruits, report on the human rights violations inside military units. I think it's incredible well yesterday I went into the same webpage and there was another news item about coca. I think it's a well-thought out strategy, what I wonder, though, is after the two months, do they stay with them or what will happen to the women?
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